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One thing that has always been spinning my mind, almost ever since I've been using Mail, in a bit more mature way, was "Do I need inbox-zero?".. up to now, I've been living successfully, every now and day marking all e-mails as read, with the exception of those that needs some action. My inbox rarely ever comes up to 100 unread E-mails, although including newsletters I do like, but never read..

However! I was kind of wondering, and honestly I cannot explain myself in words about my thoughts around this subject, would 'inbox zero' add something to my live? The only difference simply is a white screen versus a full screen of mails, but marked read. The counter shows '0' either way.

And we're not even speaking about deleting versus archiving, which from my aspect, could be a whole new topic..

I'm satisfied by this at this current point, but I do live by the words 'If you are in doubt about something, the current situation is not satisfying'. Therefor, I'm unsure if this situation actually fits.

One thing that extends this matter is that I'm using both a desktop as mobile client that is quite focussed on achieving inbox zero, by the features it provides.. Though, I don't use them (yet), because I'm not pursuing inbox zero..

Looking forward to your thoughts!

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Raystafarian, Rory Alsop Jun 3 '14 at 19:19

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Sander - you will even see from the answers that this question is only going to get opinions. There may be a question in there around defined benefits/measures, so if you could edit to show that, this may be opened again. – Rory Alsop Jun 3 '14 at 19:20
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The base concept behind "inbox zero" is that you process incoming mail one time, and don't need to go back to look at it again to see if there is anything you need to do. After you have looked at it that first time, you make whatever notes or entries needed in your productivity system, and the email can then be discarded or archived, depending on what your future need for it might be.

There is a huge productivity boost to that kind of process, how you implement it may vary. If you find it works for you to leave all your mail in your inbox, and rely on "Unread" flagging to identify the mail that you haven't yet processed, good for you. I found that the risk of losing a message due to the flag being flipped to "Read" accidentally was too high for me to be comfortable with. There's also a big risk of going numb to messages that you glance at, decided not to process, and flip back to "Unread" manually.

What works for me is to keep my inbox as empty as possible. It gets to an actual zero at least once a week, and often several times. As I process mail (3 sessions daily, not as it comes in) the messages are tagged and moved to a single archive folder. They may move to @Reply, @Read, or @WaitingFor folders along the way, depending on what actions the message triggers. The final destination is an archive folder, one per calendar year, with one or more tags on the message to make it easy to find if I need it in the future.

I find that looking at an inbox with 30 messages, all of which I know I have to look at, is much easier to cope with mentally than an inbox with 150 messages, 20 of which are unread. Reducing the visual clutter is worthwhile to me, and that's where I find the value in an actual "inbox zero".

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Thanks for your insights. I honestly find them very helpful and might change my mind about my current situation. Also compliments about tackling the difference between 'unread states' and 'inbox zero'. Besides that, you say you only look at mail about three sessions daily.. What about quick questions about 'how do I..?' or 'want to go ..?' from relatives or such? Are these exceptions on the rules as you, on mac, can 'quick reply' without opening your E-mail inbox. Thank you! – Sander Schaeffer Jun 2 '14 at 14:30
On a day when I'm working my process well, I only look at email during scheduled email time. I turned off all "you have mail" alerts years ago, they're a huge time wasting distraction. So I don't know about "how do I.." etc. quick questions. My team knows email will get answered in a few hours, if they have something that needs an answer faster than that they will IM, phone, or walk in. My family knows I don't do personal email during work hours, if there's something urgent they will phone. When I really need to focus on a task, I will shut email off entirely until a scheduled time. – Dennis S. Jun 2 '14 at 18:04
Hmm.. Well I think I can't be that 'off' to Email and just removing all alerts or completely quitting Email for a long time, or just ignoring family to name a thing.. But I do believe that less often checking mail and doing more those times, instead of checking every hour and answer just a single mail each time turns into a more productive yourself. For once, you produce more actions after each other = saving time, but also less distraction. I honestly feel myself looking at my inbox too often. And 2), I indeed think only 30 unread is better than 150 with 20 unread, as you stated. Thanks! – Sander Schaeffer Jun 2 '14 at 21:32

I use inbox zero because I don't rely on the unread count for determining what items need to be processed.

Remember, the inbox is a basket or bucket that holds things until they are processed into the GTD system e.g. throw away, to do, delegate, etc. Once I pull the actions out of the mail item, I have no need for it to remain in my "to process" bucket. If I did, I'd have to spend a lot of time marking things as unread once I determined they may require more effort to process than time I have available at the moment.

Of course, this is up to each person individually as to how they want their system to function.

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Well in fact, I mirror myself when reading your answer "I'd have to spend a lot of time marking things as unread once I determined they may require more effort", as that is what I often do. And often I also forget about that, resulting in a week later response. Reading mail requires direct action, either replying or putting them in the GTD system. Which results in inbox zero. Thanks for your helpful insight! – Sander Schaeffer Jun 2 '14 at 21:34

Whether you should or shouldn't get to inbox zero comes down to personal preferences. Some people prefer to make their bed every day, some never. Some people prefer brushing their teeth a three times daily, others once in a while. Some dust their house every day some, again, once in a while.

It's about the process of keeping things flowing and not to have them backed up. Its not necessarily about keeping it empty just because someone's opinion or a study says you should.

Part of the process is to keep things organized. A Dennis correctly states is that he has made decisions as to where things belong.

Email can be tricky because it contains both reference material and reminders. Reference material which should be kept in archives. Reminders to do things which should go into your task list or calendar. You want to make decisions about where these belong sooner rather than later and you should only have to make that decision once rather than every time you look at your inbox.

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I know of no studies which have established that "inbox zero" is worth the effort or even worth striving for. Try it, and if you find it works for you, go ahead and use it.

Personally, I can see no clear justifications for "inbox zero" and believe a lot of it is down to hype.

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